How to House Train Your New Puppy

Tips, Tricks, and Tools for House Training

Rottweiler puppy inside his crate
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Few of us have the option of taking ‘puppy leave’ to stay home to house train our new puppies. That means your puppy will almost certainly be spending hours at home alone. Not only will you need to train your puppy to eliminate outside, but you'll also need to train it to hold off on elimination until you're home and ready to go outside. This can take time and patience: puppies typically have no more ability to "hold it" than the average four-year-old child. In fact, if your puppy will be confined for longer than four hours at a time, consider giving it access to an indoor potty area during confinement.

Is Your Puppy Ready for Elimination Training?

The younger your puppy is, the more often she will need to eliminate. Maturity plays a part in house training puppies just like it does in potty training children. You can judge your puppy’s maturity by noticing how many ‘motion driven’ accidents your puppy has, as compared to ‘intention driven’.

Motion driven accidents happen as your puppy is romping through the house, squats, then keeps running. Keep in mind that since you didn’t know your puppy was going to go and she didn’t know she was going to go, there is no reason to try to redirect motion driven accidents. Instead, concentrate your redirection efforts on ‘intention driven’ accidents. A dog can’t help motion driven accidents, as motion stimulates the bowels. But together, you can avoid intention driven accidents.

Defining Your Puppy’s Space

Your puppy will find it easier to eliminate in the right time and place if it stays in a limited area for a defined amount of time. At least for some period of time, it's best to keep your puppy in the as the largest space it will keep clean and not chew up. Before deciding on your method of confinement consider these things:

  1. Length of time your puppy will be confined
  2. The layout of your home
  3. The size of your puppy
  4. The age of your puppy

In addition to crates, your options include baby gates and exercise pens. Baby gates are a great way to keep your puppy in a selected room without isolating it from the family. Indoor exercise pens are the perfect way to give your puppy more room when you have to leave it for longer than 4 hours. When using an exercise pen or baby gate, it's a good idea to place your puppy's crate in one corner of the pen with the door open, its water in another corner, and its dog litter box or wee-wee pad frame in another corner. This will help it make the choice of the pads instead of its crate or water bowl.

Choosing Kennel Crates

If you do decide to purchase a crate, you'll be making a bit of an investment. It is tempting to buy a kennel crate big enough for your St. Bernard puppy to use when grown. However, the extra space now might tempt your puppy to urinate on one side of the crate and sleep on the other side. You can find many crates that do have dividers you can use to temporarily make the space smaller. Experiment with the size of your confinement. Remember to use the largest space your puppy still keep clean and not chew up.

There are three different types of kennel crates to choose from; experiment with these three styles to determine which one your puppy prefers:

  1. Open wire crates: Open wire crates allow your puppy to see what is going on around her. When investing in an open wire crate, it's best to choose one that easily folds up.
  2. Airline kennels: Airline kennels are difficult for puppies to manage to get out of. These crates were designed to keep animals safe during travel.
  3. Soft-sided crates: While soft-sided crates are attractive and comfortable, keep in mind that your puppy will almost certainly be able to chew through them

Your puppy will let you know how she handles comfort items in her crate. Some pups do fine with beds, blankets, toys, and towels. Others chew them up, which can be dangerous for the puppy if she eats the pieces. Some pups will urinate on the towel, move it to the corner, and sleep on the dry surface. You might want to avoid putting anything expensive or particularly messy in her crate with her until you know how it will react.

Also, consider food and water: your Chihuahua puppy might need food in her crate while the St. Bernard probably does not. Please consult your veterinarian before you decide to leave food in your puppy’s crate. As for water, use whatever your puppy is comfortable with; there are several options ranging from a simple water bowl to systems designed to provide a continuous supply of fresh water.

When Training Is Difficult

You may have heard that puppies do not soil their confinement area, but are pups that do not mind soiling their crate at all. If you live with one of these puppies, make this pup’s confinement area bigger instead of smaller. Use the exercise pen configuration described above. You can restore a puppy’s cleanliness instincts by giving it the choice of a clean crate with the door open, water bowl, or pad area.